Question: What is the difference between ice cream and gelato?
Gelato isn’t just the Italian word for ice cream. Although the two frozen desserts have a lot in common, there are two major differences between ice cream and gelato. The first is the amount of air that is whipped into the dessert. The second is the fat content. These two things create a completely different flavor and texture in the gelato.
When you churn ice cream, it incorporates air into the mixture. Air is important for frozen desserts, or else the ice cream would just freeze into a solid block. Cheaper brands of ice cream can have as much as 50% air in the mixture. The next time you are at the store, pick up a pint of a premium ice cream and a cheap brand. You can feel the difference in the weight of the product. However, gelato is churned differently than ice cream
and is processed at a lower speed. This means that there is less air incorporated into gelato, giving it a denser texture.
In the United States, for a product to be labeled as “ice cream,” it must contain at least 10% fat. There aren’t the same requirements placed on gelato, so it can have anywhere from 3% to 8% fat. Fruit flavors are often the ones that have a lower fat content, because they are made with tons of fresh fruit. Gelato is often made with whole milk instead of heavy cream, further reducing the amount of fat in a batch of gelato.
This changes the finished flavor of the dessert. Heavy cream coats the tongue and mutes the other flavors in the ice cream, while the lower fat content of milk allows the fruit and flavorings to stand out more.
If you are interested in reading more about the differences between ice cream and gelato, there are plenty of resources online.
Many gelato shops have their own explanations of how they create great gelato.